Columnists and bloggers love to see the end of the year roll up. Recapping columns of the year makes for an easy assignment in the midst of the laid-back holidays. Please don't think less of me for taking the easy route, especially since 2016 was such an eventful year.
In February, for instance, I was able to report on the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky. NFMS is a kind of bellwether for how the machinery industry views the coming year. A lot of major new product introductions mean machinery manufacturers are optimistic. They think farmers are in a buying mood, funds are available and innovations will be well received. Not so much at the 2016 NFMS. That's not to say there were not plenty of new products offerings. Great Plains and Capstan Ag Systems, for example, introduced the AccuShot system for accurately placing liquids -- starter fertilizer, insecticide or fungicide -- directly and accurately in the furrow. Case IH and AGCO unveiled new planter series that rely heavily on Precision Planting technologies. And most manufacturers launched new or modified lines of tractors. But there weren't the wholesale, boffo introductions we saw in years past, especially during the boom years before 2014. NMFS told me that manufacturers were not optimistic that 2016 would be a banner year. They were correct.
March ushered in a new version of the Commodity Classic with an extended machinery component. I reported from New Orleans, Louisiana, that commodity groups -- which own the annual Commodity Classic -- joined forces with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) to expand the presence of iron and steel at the trade show. Together, the two organizations helped increase the number of companies exhibiting at Commodity Classic by about 22%. Total attendance rose from 8,000 to almost 9,800.
That same month I wrote about attending a farm auction in Missouri. Everything was for sale, and prices were not good. It reminded me of the awful auctions I watched in the ugly 1980s. It was like peering through the window of a hospice house, hoping the end was as pain-free as possible. Fortunately, I reminded myself and readers, this is not the '80s. As bad as 2016 was, it's not the rolling disaster that farmers experienced 30 years ago.
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In April, I wrote about a crowdsourcing project by AEM to boost government spending on infrastructure. AEM believes that such spending would fill gaps in America's future and benefit the whole economy while providing jobs. Republicans in Congress for eight years said "no" to Barack Obama's plans for increased infrastructure spending. We'll soon find out if they think Donald Trump's similar plans are worth a vote. Prediction: Republicans will vote for much more infrastructure spending. At the same time, they will find reasons to blame the previous administration for not voting that way in the past.
The big news in July was Kubota's purchase of Great Plains Manufacturing. The buy was a major step in Kubota's long march to become a full-line farm equipment manufacturer in North America. While Great Plains will operate independently, Kubota dealers now will have access to a well-respected array of tillage tools, seeders and other agricultural implements.
In August I reported on a conversation about the depressed farm machinery market with Jerry Lehnertz, senior vice president of AgriBank Farm Credit in St. Paul, Minnesota. The take away: If you plan to buy farm equipment soon, also plan to hold an in-depth discussion with your lender. You will have to explain your decisions much more now than when commodity prices were high.
Part of my September was spent in Cuba reporting on the potential impact of improved relations between the Cuban and the U.S. governments. I was primarily interested in how such improvement would affect American farmers and ranchers and North American-based machinery manufacturers. A secondary interest was the quality of Cuban food, music and rum.
Throughout the year, I reported on new technologies. Unmanned aerial vehicles were of special interest because they are inexpensive, fun to fly and potentially useful. When the Federal Aviation Administration finally issued regulations in the summer, UAVs became legal for farmers to use, provided said farmers did the necessary paperwork.
In sum, 2016 was a year most farm equipment companies and many row-crop and livestock farmers are glad is ending. For a blogger/columnist/reporter, the year was sometimes painful to watch, but it had a unique kind of news value. It also gave me reason to be thankful that I was able to spend another year writing about agriculture and the great people who make it special.
See you next year.
Jim Patrico can be reached at email@example.com
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